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History of Uzbekistan

People have lived in what is today known as Uzbekistan for thousands of years; however the people that came and went differed over time. By the 400s BC Iranian-speaking people had arrived and began developing cities, including what is today Bukhara and Samarkand. From the very beginning of the silk trade, these cities have been instrumental to its success.

In the 300s BC Alexander the Great took the land, however his rule was brief and after its collapse the region was not ruled by a strong government until the 600 and 700s AD when Islam arrived with the Arabs. Despite the introduction of Islam and the Arab language, little else changed in the region and Arabic was only used for purposes of government and trade. The cities of Bukhara and Samarkand continued to grow with the silk trade and became centers of learning as people traveled here from great distances to learn or trade. However, this trade and education was still primarily dominated by the Iranian people that are ancestors of today's the Persians and Tajiks.

In the 800s the Turkic people arrived to the region, although they were primarily nomadic at the time. These people slowly gained power over the next couple centuries as numerous small Turkic states, and a couple large states, including the Seljuk Turks were established, growing powerful enough to take the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand in about 1000.

This Turkic rule lasted until the early 1200s when the Mongols arrived and took the entire region. Much of the cities in the region were destroyed and the Mongols exerted Turkish dominance over the Iranians due to the good relations the Mongols and Turkic people had.

Among the Mongol leaders, the strongest in the Central Asian region was Timur and his descendants, who came to power in the mid- to late-1300s and ruled until the 1500s. These people ruled the region with few challenges and fully developed the Silk Trade Route as well as major cities along the path, including the re-building of Bukhara and their new capital, Samarkand. Under Timur's rule the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand again became world-renowned centers of learning.

It was under Timur that the ancestors of today's Uzbeks arrived to the country in great numbers as they moved south and southeast from the Aral Sea. By 1510 the Uzbeks had taken most of Central Asia with their bases in Bukhara and Khiva. This power was limited though and by the end of the 1500s power was already weakening as these powerful cities fought both each other as well as the Iranians.

From the early 1600s until the late 1800s the region of Uzbekistan had few strong rulers or improvements as they were continuously raided by the Kazakhs and Mongols from the north, while relations with the Iranian people to the south and east, all but isolated the region.

Beginning in 1865 the lands of modern day Uzbekistan were taken over by the Russians. The Russians wanted the land primarily for agricultural production and the growth of cotton so a number of farms were created in the territory. Slowly over time ethnic Russians settled the region and farmed these lands while the Russians built railroads to transport these goods. The railroad brought in more Russians and soon the Uzbeks began protesting. These protests peaked in 1916 when the Russian tsar decided that the Uzbeks could be drafted to fight in the Russian army.

With the fall of Russia, came the rule of the Soviet Union. The people were divided on Soviet rule; nearly all opposed this rule, but once it was clear they would fall under their power the people tended to divide between communists and anti-communists. At first Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were united, but in 1929 they were divided and Uzbekistan received the important cities of Bukhara and Samarkand.

Under Soviet rule the people suffered greatly, particularly under the rule of Josef Stalin, which began in 1929. Numerous industries were moved to the region, but with this came ethnic Russians. The Soviets also deported people to the region, most commonly the Tatars and Caucus peoples. Urbanization also occurred with ethnic Russians flooding into these cities to control the most important industries and factories.

Uzbekistan's fortunes became slightly better under the rule of Leonid Brezhnev as Uzbek leaders regularly bribed him in order to gain greater autonomy and self-rule. This worked better than it did in most other Soviet Socialist Republics, but ended with the death of Uzbek leader, Rashidov. This led to a blanket accusation by the Soviet government in 1986 of vast corruption within Uzbekistan, an act done perhaps in order to re-gain control over the region. However all it did was encourage independence and nationalism in the Uzbek people.

Once the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991 Uzbekistan gained its independence, but this came with great ethnic tensions. The Russians were treated poorly as many fled and Uzbeks now in other countries, most notably Kyrgyzstan, were being "protected" by the Uzbek government via numerous armed battles.

Since independence Uzbek president, Islam Karimov has continued his racial campaigns as the country is becoming increasingly homogenous. His government is also regularly accused of human rights violations and corruption.

This page was last updated: March, 2013